Words by A-TEAMer Ali Hair
Images by Pete Scullion
You know that feeling you get when you walk away from a concert, an event, or even a ride with your mates that’s just been really bloomin’ great? The kind of buzz that leaves you smiling ear to ear?
For a handful of TFT volunteers in August this year that feeling was riding high following the XC World Championships at Glentress – a TFT Approved event. But I’ll come back to that shortly.
Instead, let me take you back a few years. The TFT Approved Scheme was created to address the impact of outdoor events on our trails and wild places. These things can be whirlwinds – they roll into town, and in a fever of activity leave as quickly as they arrive. But in so much as an event might bring positives to the area they can also, sometimes, leave a less welcome footprint - single use pollutants (trash), discarded signage or race tape, and numerous less tangible environmental impacts.
That’s all pretty dour right?! Well the TFT Approved Scheme was imagined to help event organisers address these issues, and I had the chance to help deliver on that aim. Now, it’s not every day your asked to deliver on a project like this, but as a member of the TFT A-Team there’s a certain level of trust and freedom your given - and so it was, the chance to apply some of my regular day to day skills to something altogether a bit different.
With the scheme in development we had a handful of events in our first year taking on the challenge to become as environmentally friendly as possible. Red Bull Hardline? That was (and still is) a Gold standard TFT Approved event. The Naughty Northumbrian, and EWS Tweed Valley? They were TFT Approved events in that year too.
Now despite a positive first year I’m fully aware we are not expert event organisers at Trash Free Trails. I’m definitely not a professional “event sustainability consultant” or a gold standard environmentalist either. What I am part of though, is a collective with a mission to reconnect people with nature through the removal of single use pollution from places we love. So it was, and is, really important that we involve our communities in big projects like this (and not just publish things we think are great!).
That’s why we took our time with TFT Approved. We worked with Red Bull and the Enduro Sports Organisation (ESO) to develop the scheme so it truly works for event organisers. But we didn’t stop there. We put it out to you, the #TrashMob, to see what you think. Only after that period of testing, trial and error were we comfortable to put it out to the world. That also gives us the confidence to say that big, small or middling - if you’re an outdoor event organiser, TFT Approved is for you!
So let’s fast forward to 2023 - and what a huge year it’s been. TFT Approved is in its second iteration and is even easier to use than ever. The cool thing? That small whisper of a launch with a few chosen events has turned into a massive shout from the mountain tops. Event organisers from (literally) around the globe are taking on TFT Approved to help them mitigate their environmental impacts.
The Grinduro event series, The UTMB Mont-Blanc trail running event, Brother in the Wild in the UK, the list goes on (and on – have a look at the map here). Oh, and amongst roughly 30 individual events using our scheme there was also this minor, little event hosted in Glasgow and around Scotland. It was called the UCI Cycling World Championships, and it was actually the biggest cycling event the world had ever seen…
As part of this, ESO once again took on TFT Approved to help them mitigate their environmental impact whilst organising the XC World Championship Event at Glentress. With our volunteers physically on site we were able to see first hand the positive impact which TFT Approved can have, even on an event of truly international size and scale. From free water sources, environmentally friendly bike wash areas, a keep cup scheme, on site recycling, and even a team of dedicated litter pickers - this event was truly ‘Gold’ standard (don’t take our word though, just ask the many staff, participants and spectators alike saying it was the cleanest event they had been to).
I could go on, but you know how I started this blog about that buzzing sense of satisfaction you get from a great time had? For myself and the TFT team that was the World Championship event, and it’s how we know that TFT Approved really is an enabler of tangible, positive environmental change for the outdoor event industry.
Now, is that view anecdotal? Well yes, you could argue that, so Let’s top my massive cake of subjective positivity with an objective stat (because everyone loves stats, right?). Over the week of the World Championship event at Glentress TFT volunteers found and picked up a total of just 1,501 pieces of trash. That’s over a 5 day international event, with literally 10s of thousands of people, spread out over a vast event site. That’s hugely commendable and whilst the goal is always zero, it’s a big positive step in the right direction.
So, as the season comes to a close I’m here to give event organisers across the world a shout out for using our free to use scheme, and helping to make a positive difference to YOUR trails and wildplaces. I’m also here to say thanks to YOU, the #TrashMob, for getting involved, being #NotSoSecretShoppers on site and holding your events to account.
As for the future? I’ll be continuing to develop the TFT Approved scheme alongside the smallnormous TFT HQ (and the ever amazing A-Team) so that we can reach into new and exciting areas where we think there is an opportunity to make a positive change - maybe at a MTB trail centre near you soon?
For more information on TFT Approved, head here.